The back cover blurb lays out this debut self-published novel in a descripting and engaging fashion: "William Hart has written a powerful, arresting first novel that explores trhe teacher/student relationship in a new and complex way. This is a book about heroism, about the scars of Vietnam, and ultimatley, about love."
This glowing comment flowed from the pen of T. Coraghessan Boyle himself, a master of the written word (though reviews appearing on this site regarding his last couple of books have been less than sterling). Upon completing these pages, it's difficult to understand where T.C. found these images because the book is little more than a diary with entries made by the main character, a teacher named John Goddard, and to counter these, daily thoughts as espoused by Vietnamese student - and one of Goddard's proteges - Tina Le.
On paper, the idea has muscle and motion - an educator looking for his own voice (he's a frustrated writer in the same way every other English teacher is an undiscovered literary genius) is balanced out by the practical and almost detached feelings of this Vietnamese emigre. But, as has been in the case with other first-time authors who have used the teacher as their main symbolic device, the story and the maturation of the characters falls apart in direct proportion to Hart's inability to convey either of these key elements.
Goddard, an alias for the author, was in the war, and from time to time he calls upon those experiences - flashbacks - to reveal something about himself or his relationship to his students and particurly to Tina herself. He does not go to the well enough, however, and his minimal references to his time in Asia come across as pages filled with apathetic and uninspired writing. The author was legitimately part of the conflict, a medic, so why not plumb that resource?
The final paragraph has a hackneyed feel to it and is part of Tina's diary: "In the end what you have is memories. And I believe the most you can hope is more good memories than bad ones. Memories that never fade away if they happen when you are young, full of the pain and joy of being alive." It's so superficial and apparently skimming along the top of any real emotion that it reveals little about where Tina ends up at the book's finale or where Goddard may find himself in a year's time. And using the title of the book in the final paragraph is a sure sign of a writer looking for an easy way out.
Many writers involved in the Vietnam War feel that writing about what happened there is a cheap shot, an easy way to gain access to an audience. And my response is: So what? There can never be enough good and strong and honest evaluations about that terrible time, and if Hart has the guts to mention that he was there, why hamstring himself by only mentioning those experiences on a handful of pages?
His next book should be about the war and what he did/did not do there. That would pique the interest of a great many readers - it doesn't matter how you get someone to open the pages of your book, just get them opened.